Responding and Reporting

Clergy privilege can often be complex. Learn more about how to handle the intersection between clergy privilege and clergy’s role as a mandated reporter of child abuse.

A Catholic priest in the Archdiocese of St. Louis, Rev. Jiang, was accused of sexually abusing a child. He denied having done it. The criminal case against Rev. Jiang was voluntarily dismissed by the prosecutor.

If your organization is in the United States or other countries with well-established child abuse reporting laws, then reporting is simple. If the alleged abuse happened in a country where reporting protocol is not established—or you have a multijurisdictional nightmare—or abuse that is historic—it may not be clear whether and how to report.

In a perfect world, no one would file reports of child abuse unless they were really true. But it happens all the time—in fact, most of the reports that go to the Department of Human Services are unfounded. What should you do if a DHS caseworker shows up at your door?

One of the hardest things your church may ever deal with is an allegation of child sexual abuse. These allegations create responsibilities for reporting to law enforcement, for ministering to people who are hurt, evaluating child safety procedures that are in place, interacting with media, dealing with offenders, considering legal issues, and other tough challenges.

Reporting child abuse is complex and important. Failure to report abuse can leave children at risk. Still, be wise before picking up the phone. An error in one direction may leave a child abused or make you criminally liable. An error in the other direction may damage a family, ruin a career, or expose you to a defamation lawsuit.